03/22/2007 12:00AM

Twilight Meteor has most upside


NEW YORK - The road to the May 5 Kentucky Derby advances another step Saturday with a rich prep for that classic, the $500,000 Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park. Elsewhere, marathon turf performers have the spotlight in the $200,000 San Luis Rey Handicap at Santa Anita, while Aqueduct, Fair Grounds, and Gulfstream Park each have $150,000 headliners.

Lane's End

Hard Spun and Forefathers are the first two favorites in the morning line at 5-2 and 7-2. But the betting public will have to be in a forgiving mood if they are to actually be the first two favorites come post time, as both come off defeats that quite possibly exposed their limitations. While it is true Hard Spun found himself off the pace for the first time in his life, and wide, last time out in the Southwest Stakes, he still should have done better than finish fourth as the odds-on choice against moderate opposition. As for Forefathers, he was compromised by a poor start and some early traffic trouble most recently as the favorite in the Hutcheson Stakes. However, the way he gave up the ghost in the final furlong to finish a distant seventh was not encouraging.

I like Twilight Meteor. Twilight Meteor beat a solid field in last month's Hallandale Beach Stakes, running very close to the top Beyer Speed Figure he earned last year, and he did so off a four-month layoff. Twilight Meteor has every right to improve second time out, and a sharp workout last Sunday at Palm Meadows indicates he is primed to take a step forward. If he does, the rest of this field will be in trouble. Twilight Meteor already owns the best two-turn Beyer Figure in this field, a 97 he earned in his victory last October in the Bourbon Stakes. Being a more mature animal now, he should have little trouble topping that number. Twilight Meteor's Bourbon fig is also noteworthy because it came on Keeneland's Polytrack, and Polytrack is what Twilight Meteor will be racing on Saturday.

Duncan F. Kenner Breeders' Cup

Gaff will be favored to win his third straight stakes race, and he will take some beating, especially moving from turf to dirt. Although Gaff won the Taylor's Special on the grass last time out, he is probably a bit more effective on the main track. But it is another horse going from turf to dirt who is a more appealing betting option, and that horse is Venomous.

Venomous finished fifth behind Gaff in the Taylor's Special but was dull, just as he was in his only other attempt on turf. I suspect Venomous just doesn't like turf, and I'm willing to draw a line though that race. Before that, Venomous was sharp on Fair Grounds's main track, winning the Colonel Power Stakes, and closing fast but finishing third in a blanket finish to Gaff in the Bonapaw Stakes. Notably, the Bonapaw was run at 5 1/2 furlongs, which was more suitable to Gaff. This race will be run at six furlongs, which is Venomous's best distance.

San Luis Rey Handicap

It is usually unwise to go too far back in a horse's form when looking for reasons to bet, and going back two years is almost always a no-no. But you can make an exception for a Neil Drysdale turf runner, and that's why Fourty Niners Son is the play.

Fourty Niners Son, who is expected to benefit greatly from his recent return from a long layoff, showed a lot of ability in 2005, the last year he was able to put a real campaign together. He would have finished second ahead of Kitten's Joy in the Arlington Million with any kind of decent trip, and he won the Clement L. Hirsch with style later that campaign. Fourty Niners Son faces a relatively uninspiring field Saturday, and I'm not concerned that he is 0 for 1 at this 1 1/2-mile distance, as his lone attempt at this trip came in the 2005 Breeders' Cup Turf.